For Theresa

Theresa had been part of our family for so long that I can’t remember the first time I met her. She was always a perfectly natural addition to our family, present most days of the week, holidays, vacations at the beach. I remember her at my wedding and meeting my newborn son for the first time. Watching my sister grow up, I also got to watch Theresa.

Lisa and Theresa made quite the pair. I’m not sure another person on earth would agree to watch Billy Madison as many times in a row as the two of them did together or change song lyrics and sing these new lyrics throughout the house until no one was laughing anymore. Or dress up (and they did this was when they were adults!)

Truth be told, I was always a little jealous of their friendship. To have a friend that one could call any hour of the night; a friend who would travel across state lines to lend a hand; a friend to laugh, cry, and get in trouble with; a friend with whom there were no secrets–Lisa and Theresa had a beautiful relationship.

My family and I never saw Theresa without a smile, and she genuinely loved people. My sister and I each had other friends growing up, and, I guess, as is natural, we didn’t always like those other friends. However, that was not the case with Theresa. I don’t know how another person could not like her. Her silliness, her smile, the attention she gave to everyone–Theresa’s personality was endearing.

Knowing her as such a beautiful person only makes her death harder. Why did God allow a person to die who had so much life left? Why take a young wife and mother, one who meant so much to so many people? I don’t know the answer but can only trust the mystery with Him.

A few weeks ago, I walked through my neighborhood. The air was cooler, and the trees were beginning to reflect hues of gold and burnt orange. I couldn’t stop looking up, studying the leaves that blew in the wind above my head.

Fall has always been my favorite season. Finally!–a reprieve from the terrible hot of Georgia, a glimpse of life at its most radiant before the dead of winter comes. But every year my complaint is the same–fall is too darned short.

Maybe that’s what makes fall so special to me. I know I have to get outside, walk in that cool air as soon as it hits, because in a week, I could be staring at gray, drizzly skies while wearing a winter coat.

Fall to me is God’s gift before winter. The leaves on the tree could slowly dry up and fall to the ground in a crunchy mess, but no–God let’s those leaves go out in a bang! Their final breaths are spent, not using energy for photosynthesis, but acknowledging the shorter days and resting, letting the green fade from their leaves revealing brilliant yellows and oranges and reds.

The maple tree in my front has a few red leaves left, and I wish I could pack that color into a crayon. Of course, I can’t; I have to enjoy it while it’s here.

When I think back to Theresa’s last months here, I see brilliance as her life was fading. I watched as my sister left her own family for days at a time to care for her friend, to watch Theresa’s child. I don’t get to witness love like that very often, and I’m so proud of the woman my sister is, the friend she was to Theresa.

At the wake and the funeral, I saw pain in the eyes of so many that loved her, and I could feel the intensity of that love. I listened as friends laughed recounting memories, and I cried when Theresa’s father spoke bravely of his daughter and her precious life. I know there is anger over her death and confusion and a whole other range of emotions that we can’t even explain–and in a way, these emotions are beautiful. The fact that a person could cause us to feel, really feel–it’s amazing.

No, we’d rather not have the winter and the gray that looms over us now. We don’t want to feel the chill in our bones or the wind on our cheek. Yet, we will all face our own winters; Theresa’s just came sooner than we’d like. However, in the midst of our tears, we can look at the love and passion and loyalty that remained when the Theresa we knew faded away. And it was magnificent.

 

Home

“And this is what happens when you jump on the bed! If you would’ve just listened and gone to bed, you would not have gotten hurt!”

As I held a towel to her chin, I couldn’t force the calming words that most with a maternal instinct would naturally say. No, I decided I couldn’t pass up on the chance of creating a Pavlov’s dogs-type connection–jumping on the bed=blood gushing from your chin.

Thankfully, my six-year-old daughter provided comfort while I frantically figured out how to get my youngest to the ER. While she wiped the blood from her sister’s legs, cleaned the bright spots out of the carpet, I grabbed band-aids and made phone calls figuring out which grandparents could provide the best help. I can’t really remember what my son was doing–I think screaming.

It’s a well-known law of the universe that when a husband travels out-of-town, a child will get sick or injured or a car will break down. Typically these events will happen early in the morning on the way to work or school or late at night when everyone is trying to sleep.

When the four of us finally got in the minivan, it was about 10 p.m. My nerves were shot. They were already a little shaky, having just sold our home and moved the five of us into an apartment a few weeks prior. Now, seeing the blood pool beneath the band-aid covering the hole in her chin and listening to my daughter cry hysterically for an entire car ride, I was done.

I was jittery and shaky and could concentrate just well enough on driving to head in the right direction while managing a few “I just wish you kids would listen!” as I changed lanes. I blame this state of mind for my not noticing the needle on the temperature gauge soaring and thinking the sudden jerks of the van the result of a tail-gating pickup truck nudging me along.

When the van kept spasmodically jerking forward after I turned into the hospital, I no longer blamed the pickup truck that abandoned me before the turn. I tried to filter out the screams from my youngest as I deciphered which arrows would take me to doctors who performed stitches. I followed the path that led to the gate entering the ER parking lot, and as I stopped and reached out the window to take my ticket, my van stopped–for good.

Yes, my minivan died right there blocking the entrance to the ER. It let out one last exhale– a brilliant puff of smoke–for good measure while I looked on in utter disbelief. Just like a movie.

That night (or early morning as we didn’t leave the ER until 2:30 a.m.) marked the beginning of what I affectionately refer to as “My Job Season.” At first, I would jokingly (and cautiously) make the Job reference. After all, Job suffered from boils and thieves and his children dying one after another. I suffered from the ‘one after another,’ but 10 stitches, a van dying, stomach viruses, and dropping an iPhone in a puddle all in the course of one week were still not on the same level.

Until one day, it started to feel on the same level.

We had entered a challenging season–an adventure–as we told the kids. We were building a new home and moving to a new area, so the kids would start a new school. Matt and I each had new positions at work. Everything felt fresh and open.

We sold our home quickly at the end of April, a blessing, but a challenge as the home we were building wouldn’t be ready for another couple of months. Two months seemed too long to live with a relative, especially since we still had about a month of the school year left, but not many places provide two-month leases.

We found one for a hefty price, but, hey, we had a place to live. And with little motivation to unpack what we brought with us, we made this apartment our pitstop on the way to our new life.

The kids had their beds, Matt and I had our mattress, and a few random pieces of furniture would suffice for the next two months. In the meantime, we daydreamed about our new rooms and how we would decorate. One night in particular, I pulled out my iPad and surprised Matt with my vision for the guest bedroom upstairs–a room decorated with soft colors and bookshelves and a crib in the center.

We were having a baby.

Immediately, our minds jumped to the future. Would we have a boy or a girl (of course a boy. A boy would bring balance to the force)? What names did we like? How would we tell the kids? Our family?

Telling the family was easy. With the new house, all we’d have to do was give them a tour, and they’d see a crib set up in the spare bedroom. They squeal with delight. We’d all hug.

I couldn’t wait to tell the kids. Their constant requests for a baby would be granted. They’d squeal with delight. We’d all hug.

Matt’s parents found out when we had to leave a birthday party early. I was cramping and spotting and felt the truth was better than leaving without a good reason. My parents found out when the repeated blood tests leaving my arms looking like I was a drug user showed I could miscarry at any moment–or have an ectopic pregnancy–they weren’t sure yet. I asked for prayers and prepared my plan for if I had to suddenly go to the hospital.

Our kids never knew.

After a couple of weeks of uncertainty and praying for a miracle, the doctor said with confidence that it was a blighted ovum. The baby either died early on or never formed, but my body continued to think it was pregnant. I would need a D&C to stop the pregnancy.

In the hospital waiting room, Matt and I took a call from our real estate agent discussing our next steps. In addition to the house not appraising, the builders had left the backyard as a 30 foot drop off from the edge of the house, and we did not think the cliff was safe or appealing. They did not care what we thought.

I remember crying in the car that I didn’t want to think about the house–I wanted to grieve the baby–but we had to. It was Tuesday, and we were supposed to close on Thursday.

We didn’t close that Thursday, and our lease was up five days later. We didn’t have a home.

At this point, I remember not-so-cautiously allowing myself to compare what was happening to Job. In the span of a month, my daughter got 10 stitches, my girls caught a stomach bug, my car died, and I dropped my phone in the only puddle around. When those things happened, I would laugh and say “I’m not sure I can handle much more this week, but, God, you have my attention,” and I would thank Him and acknowledge that my situation could always be worse, my family was healthy; my van and phone were just things.

And then in that same month I found out I lost my baby. I tried to thank God for my other children, but I was sad and angry. “God, what am I doing wrong? What do you want?” I remember thinking. I thought, perhaps, God was just allowing Satan to test me like Job, trying to see if I would denounce Him, and then I was scared.

I lost my baby, and I don’t have a home. What more is going to happen?

During this time, I wanted to search for meaning. So many things happening in such a short period of time, progressively getting worse–there had to be something I was to learn. I wish I could give a profound theological answer, but, honestly, I’m not sure.

I did learn that people are not comfortable with grief. Most people are well-meaning, from the anesthesiologist who tried to make us feel better by sharing that he had a mentally-challenged son (and then shared that ‘two out of three is not bad’ referring to his own children) to the doctors and friends who shared that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage (it was my turn statistically) to the Christians who shared the handy phrase that “God has a plan.”

I was not upset when people shared this fact, just a little weary of hearing it. Yes, I knew that God had a plan–it was only this knowledge that gave me the strength to not throw my hands up in total despair–but I was heartbroken. I wanted His plan to include this baby in my family, and, at the moment, knowing that He had a plan without the baby didn’t bring me much comfort.

It still doesn’t. Knowing that God is good and loving and was grieving with me gave me comfort. Knowing that His plan for us originally didn’t include death brought me comfort.

Reflecting on Jesus walking to Lazarus’s tomb and weeping because He saw the hurt and anguish that all of us would taste as a result of sin brought me comfort. He knew that death sucks, He knew how we would grieve each time we lost a loved one, and He knew the loss and emptiness Matt and I felt when we stared at that empty sac on the ultrasound. That is why He wept, and that is why I felt comfort–not because of this nebulous sounding plan that I couldn’t hold onto in the moment.

As I was wheeled down to the operating room, I found it bizarre that I had to climb onto the table. I’m not sure why–I was conscious and able–but it felt strange to hop onto a table where the thing I didn’t want to happen was about to happen. One of the nurses began to explain that the medicine might burn as it goes in the IV, and I don’t really remember anything else she said.

I remember that I started crying. I knew that there wasn’t a baby and that I needed to have the remains of the pregnancy removed, but this surgery carried a finality with it. There was no longer hope.

As I cried, I looked over at the nurses standing next to the operating bed on which I was lying and apologized. One said, “I know, I know” or “It’s okay”–I can’t remember exactly, but the other nurse, I will never forget. She reached over and placed one hand firmly on my left leg and one on my arm and looked straight in my eyes. She said nothing with her mouth, but her eyes told that she understood my sorrow and was grieving with me. Losing a baby is sad, and no words can make it better.

After the surgery, I woke up and felt strangely comfortable. I’ve joked before that I enjoy a little light anesthesia for the chance to nap. The nurse covered me in warm-to-the-touch blankets, and I remembered thinking that I didn’t want to leave. After all, the apartment wasn’t my home, and a home is where a person should go to grieve. I didn’t want to lie down on our mattress and look at the half unpacked bins and dust. I just wanted to go back to sleep.

Of course, I had to leave the hospital that day, and after a two-month stay at my sister’s (God bless her and her husband, and thank Him that we left and everyone is still alive), my family finally moved into a beautiful home that feels like it was made just for us.

That first morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and saw the pink in the sky from a sun on the rise, and I felt such a warmth from knowing this was my home. My home. Such a beautiful word.

I look back on “My Job Season,” and I still don’t know why we built a house for seven months to have us walk away the week we were to close. I don’t know why we experienced the joy of knowing a new life was growing inside me only to learn a few weeks later that we would never meet that baby (this side of heaven). I may never know.

God doesn’t promise us that we will get an explanation of all the trials that we endure. He promises us that He will never leave us in the midst of those trials. And while I can say I would never want to revisit those months again, I will also admit that they gave me a stronger desire for The Lord. This world is not my home–the sin, the suffering, the pain–they are temporary. Yes, there is tremendous beauty here, even in the midst of death and suffering, all glimpses of a loving Father, but they cannot even compare to what is waiting on the other side.

So while I make my new home and thank God for His blessings, I humbly acknowledge the fact that more trials will come. And I know that I’m holding onto hands that won’t let go of me when they do.

*While our kids do know that I went to the hospital, we chose not to give them the details. If you know our family, please respect our decision to not tell our children about the pregnancy. We will reveal those details at a later date and time of our choosing. Thank you.

Still Christmas

Christmas is over, leaving behind the remnants of wrapping paper scraps hidden under legs of furniture and the usual weariness that follows post-holiday. My belly is confused at its remaining fullness and tightness of my pants after a mere three days of rich food and celebration with family, and I’m actually looking forward to eating vegetables that aren’t part of a casserole.

My kids made me proud these past couple of days as they expressed gratefulness and excitement over their presents–exactly what every parent wants to see on Christmas morning. Today we enjoyed a day of playing and building and reading, but tomorrow I foresee a little more ‘normal.’ Laundry for sure and mopping the floor, perhaps, interspersed with Lego guidance and Bey-blade battles.

As I transition back to normal, the hollow stillness that accompanied me prior to Christmas waits again. I had never been profoundly affected by a tragedy prior to the murder of those 20 sweet children in Newtown, Connecticut, but since that terrible Friday, my mind consistently thinks of the victims, the loved ones they left behind.

Perhaps I’ve cried because I am a mother, one of my children in kindergarten, another in first grade, and I see firsthand every day the innocence of children that age. Whatever the reason, for the first time I felt the weight of evil in this world. I saw the loss of innocence for all those children who were instructed to close their eyes as they left the school building and all of us in this country as we wept for them.

As the days went on, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the season. We were preparing to sing, “Joy to the World” and proclaim “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace(E) to those on whom his favor rests” while our hearts felt anything but joy or the promise of peace. How could such darkness, such evil live among us, and how could the words of Christmas ever speak truth?

I thought of the little babe come to save the world, entering among blood and sweat and his mother’s cries as those 20 children left the world the same way. And for the first time I felt darkness surround me and a stillness about my faith. I didn’t sing for joy, and I couldn’t feel the peace.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

I didn’t question ‘why’ so much as ‘how.’ I knew my theology and believed it–still believe it–but what comfort could Christ offer any of those grieving parents? Aside for the hope of eternity, what could he do to remove the darkness now?

So I didn’t write. I grieved with the rest of the country. And I thought about Christmas.

Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day

And the more I thought about Christmas, the more I realized it was exactly the point. From the moment Eve and Adam ate of the fruit, God knew He would have to save us. The paradise He created for us was now tainted with sin, and we would forever feel the consequences. We can pass more regulations over who can get guns and what types (and I think we should), but we will never rid ourselves of evil. When Cain spilled Abel’s blood, he demonstrated the evil that dwells within us all.

To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray

Yet God still wants to save us, so we celebrate Christmas. We praise God that this mess is not our home. And we acknowledge that our feelings are appropriate–sadness, despair, hopelessness–because this world is fallen. This mess was never supposed to be. And we wait. We wait for the Savior who came as a newborn child and died as man to come once again and end our misery.

We look for glimpses of Him to remind us of the goodness that awaits–the love that we feel for our children, the satisfaction of a warm meal, the wind whipping through the trees–promises of a new creation where we will cry no more. But in the meantime, we can cry, for the pain is real. We can celebrate Christmas and the promise of joy, and we can return to our routine.

And we wait. As we look for the good, we wait.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Save us from ourselves.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy


 

 

 

Dead Fish and Nursing Gowns: A Short Story

 

Image courtesy of photobucket.com

“Sometimes it’s just hard to let go.”

I wish I had had something more comforting to say, but these words were all I could figure. I pulled Luke down to the floor on my lap as I stroked his thick, brown hair.

“But I don’t want to say goodbye, Mommy.”

“I know, baby; I know.”

“Will Sam go to heaven? Does God let fish in heaven?” He struggled to push the words out without falling into a mess of tears.

“Oh, I’d like to think so. God created fish, so I’m sure there’ll be fish there. And God knows how much you love Sam, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up there swimming around waiting to see you again one day.”

I hugged him tighter; Luke was so sensitive. I had to get that belly-up fish out of his room.

“It’s okay to be sad, Buddy. It’s okay to cry. You loved Sam.”

And with my permission, the tears rolled down his hot, red cheeks.

“Look, I need to take Sam out of your room now.”

Geez. How was I going to do this? I had never dealt with a dead pet before. Flushing the fish down the toilet in front of a sobbing boy seemed as cruel as those funerals where they lowered the casket in front of the family.

“What are you going to do with him?” Luke asked. Except, I didn’t know. ‘Deal with the dead fish’ wasn’t on my original ‘to-do’ list.

“Well…I can’t leave him in this fishbowl like this. You don’t want to look at Sam like this…”

“Please don’t take him out of my room! Let him stay here!”

“Babe, we can’t keep a dead fish in–“

“Can I have a funeral for him?” Luke interrupted.

“Umm, I guess we can…if that’ll make you feel better.”  If giving a funeral for a dead fish would allow me to take the fish out of Luke’s room, I was all for it.

“Let me just get a box for him, sweetie. Why don’t you go pick some flowers in the backyard that we could use for the service?”

As Luke headed down the stairs, I hurried to my bathroom to bury Sam at sea. And once I bid him a final farewell, I dug through shoes and clothes in the bottom of my closet looking for a proper box with which to hold his ‘remains.’

So we spent the afternoon digging up dirt and picking dandelions from the backyard in order to give Sam a proper burial underneath the big pear tree in our yard. Luke said a few words, and I said a few words, and as the warm sun made its way into our eyes, I was suddenly very thankful that Sam chose to die during Elizabeth’s nap. Yes, he was a good fish.

The rest of the day was typical–dinner and play and baths and stories–but by the time Luke lay his head on his pillow, convinced that Sam would be in heaven, and I kissed the curls on Elizabeth’s sleeping head, I was ready for bed myself. I contemplated hitting the sack early, calling it a night, but then I remembered the bag of clothes I agreed to leave on my porch for the clothing pick-up in the morning. The bag that I had not yet gotten together.

I was rummaging through my drawers when I heard Brian coming up the stairs.

“Hi,” he said as he kissed my head. “What’cha doing?”

“Oh, the clothing pick-up’s tomorrow, and I’m sure I have plenty to give away in these drawers.” I motioned to the crowded t-shirts scrunched forming little mounds in their space. “The meatloaf’s warming in the oven, if you want to make our plates. Give me ten minutes, and I’ll come down.”

“All right. What do you want to drink?”

“I’ll just have some water,” I said with a small smile and then turned back to the drawers in front of me.

Cleaning out the drawers was faster work than I thought. As I grabbed t-shirt after t-shirt, I added more and more to the pile. There’s was no reason for me to have so many. I looked at the clock. It was five until eight. I could finish these drawers, eat dinner with Brian, and then call it a night. There would be enough in the bag for the pick-up tomorrow to be worth their while, and I could get the rest I so desperately wanted. Who knew the death of a fish could be so draining?

I started on my pajama drawer, wondering why I had so many since I always slept in t-shirts, then contemplating if I should hold on to them as I looked at the massive t-shirt pile. I decided against keeping most of the pajamas, throwing more clothes on the growing mound. I grabbed a nightgown that I had forgotten I had, a nursing gown that I last used two years ago.

I started to throw the gown on the pile, but then I stopped. I looked at it in my hands–the white gown that I wore in the hospital after both children were born, the gown that I wore in bed many nights during their first year of life to make three a.m. feedings a little easier–and I held it to my nose. I don’t know what I was expecting, perhaps the scent of a newborn, but I rubbed my cheek with the gown and held it there. And then I pulled it away, gave it one last look, and threw it on top of the pile.

I grabbed a few more items of clothing and tossed them on the pile. I opened the black trash bag beside me and stuffed everything in. Then I pushed my drawer closed, got up off my knees which cracked a little when I stood, and I headed down the stairs to join Brian for dinner. We talked about the day, the fish funeral, meetings with employees at work, the upcoming fall conference at school, and then we rinsed our dishes before closing them in the dishwasher to do the dirty work.

And then I drug myself back to my room and got ready for bed.

That night I closed my eyes as I nuzzled my cheek against my pillow and took a deep breath. Thoughts of ‘Sam’ beneath our tree and the kids dreaming in their beds filled my mind. Finally, sleep could come. But as sleep came over me, so did a picture of me in my nursing gown. I gently opened my eyes only to let them close again before drifting to sleep.

The next morning, though, I got up and headed straight to the full bag of clothes. I dug through the top layer until I saw the white cotton gown beneath some yellow pajamas. I grabbed the gown and threw it back in my drawer without giving it another look before heading to the bathroom.

Sometimes it’s just hard to let go.

Last Thursday, I was inspired by one of Mama Kat’s writing prompts to write a post beginning and ending with the same sentence. However, I stayed up until two a.m. Thursday morning finishing a photo book. Hey–cut me some slack! I had a coupon for 50% off that expired at 12 a.m. PST. Anyway, waking up early to write didn’t happen, so here is my short story a week and a day late.

 

 

 

Heaven

Heaven should be one of those topics that brings peace and joy to one’s heart, but I think I’m a little strange. Heaven was the topic at church this past Sunday, and for at least half the sermon, I was squirming in my seat. I actually have given a lot of thought to heaven, probably too much, wondering how far past the clouds I’ll have to travel to get there, if the streets are really made of gold, and if I’ll get bored at some point during eternity (I know, I know–silly, right?). And the concept of eternity? Yeah, thinking about it can send me into a mild panic attack.

When I try to think about time that doesn’t end, something that lasts forever and ever and ever, I start to freak out. Everything’s supposed to end. How can something not end? And at this point in my thought process, my body gets tingly and jittery feeling, and I have to shake my head to get rid of the thoughts and take some deep breaths.

I am willing to admit I’m a little crazy.

I know I need to trust that I won’t want heaven to end, just the way that I don’t want my time here on earth with my family to end. I need to have faith that a God who is good and merciful and love has figured this heaven thing out so that when I’m up there with Him I won’t spend eternity trying to figure out how eternity actually works. And I need to trust that panic attacks don’t happen in heaven.

But apparently I’m not the only one who has issues with heaven. During his sermon, our pastor offered that most people want to go to heaven but not now. I could raise my hand in agreement. Yes, even though I know heaven is a perfect place with Jesus (shouldn’t He make it worth it for me?), I’m happy to stay down here enduring the hell of carpool lines at two different schools every day.

But why?

Our pastor suggested one reason is that we don’t live our everyday with eternity in mind. We forget that our stay on earth is really a passing through point. We were made for eternity, and we are to live with eternity in mind.

We looked at the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven…

(God’s in heaven right now and always has been)

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

(My life now should be consumed with doing God’s will here on earth)

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever…

(This life is temporary, but God will reign forever)

My life here on earth is sandwiched between eternity, but I have the tendency to live my life as if it’s the main event. Perhaps this point of view contributes to my fear of that wonderful home that’s prepared for me.

The fear of the unknown also contributes to my nervousness about heaven. Everyone has a different opinion on heaven. Some think we’ll spend eternity singing praises with the angels to Jesus. All the time. That sounds nice, but I have to admit, I’ve wondered if that would get boring (I know that’s horrible–I’m just admitting the very human thought that entered my mind).

One pastor told me that he doesn’t think we’ll have any recollection of our relationships from earth because, if we did, we’d notice who wasn’t there in heaven with us. Knowing we had family or friends in hell would make it impossible to live in joy for eternity. I guess that view makes sense, but it leaves me feeling sad and empty.

I want to remember my family and friends. I want to open my arms wide and help welcome my children one day, and I want to feel the sweet embrace of my husband again. Yes, of course I want to see Jesus, but one of the comforts that Christians find in death is knowing that death is not the end. We hope to see our loved ones again. I cling to that hope. When I think of friends who have lost a spouse or a child, I find comfort imagining their sweet reunion one day.

In the second part of the sermon when I wasn’t squirming as much, we watched an interview with Colton Burpo and his father, Todd. Colton was almost four when he got very sick and nearly died. The book Heaven is for Real is his account of entering heaven. Colton’s mother had had a miscarriage earlier but never told her son; however, he told his parents that he met his sister as well as his great-grandfather who had died 30 years before. He described them in astounding detail and counted spending time with them among some of his favorite parts of heaven.

Colton also describe sitting in Jesus’ lap as one of his favorite memories. What an image–sitting on the lap of Jesus. After hearing this little boy’s testimony of a powerful God and loving Jesus and beautiful animals and welcoming family, a wave of peace washed over me. Oh how I wanted this little boy’s account to be true!

And then I realized something. Whether or not every detail of this child’s account is exactly what heaven will look like for me doesn’t matter. What matters is that the God I worship wants me to realize that He has prepared a home with many rooms. He knew what He was doing before. He knows what He’s doing now. And He’ll know what He’s doing for all eternity.

My life wasn’t made for this earth; my life was made for communion with Him, and when I reach heaven someday, I’ll finally feel at home.

So maybe it’s best if I stop trying to figure out how long eternity actually is and how it works. Maybe I should stop trying to figure out what heaven will look like and instead focus on what I do know: God is good. God is love. God is merciful. And He will always be all of these things, even when I’m a nut. So I think I’ll take a deep breath, relax, and trust Him.

Would you raise your hand as one who wants to go to heaven but not now? Has thinking about heaven ever caused you fear? Linking up with Michelle and Jen today!



 

 

Graceful Arms

 

photo courtesy of photobucket.com

I was drawn to the look on her face, the wide-eyed sense of awe she displayed as she looked down at the newborn in her lap. Her little body took on the stillness of a statue, yet she emanated a softness from her limbs, two limbs which carefully framed this new life lying across her legs. I couldn’t stop looking at her face, the creamy porcelain skin and gentle smile framed by a bob of strawberry-blonde hair.

As her older brother came near, she whispered protectively, “You can’t touch her face,” and her arms gracefully outlined the baby as a ballerina who curves her arms in the gentlest of form, cushioning the baby’s head with tender, extended fingertips that didn’t quite touch this infant’s skin. It was as if the space between her arms and the baby’s body was filled with fluffy clouds and pillows, this special barrier enough to protect from the two-year-old now climbing on the couch to take a peek.

I wanted to capture this beautiful image forever but fought the impulse to use my phone as a camera, lest the moment be ruined by calling attention to it. So instead, I marveled at the instinct of my not-quite four-year-old and how a new life pulled a tenderness, a stillness, an impulse for reverence from her spirit. And I breathed in the fragility of life, this precious new life and the one not much older who recognized it.

Five days later, I watched a friend weary from grief hold her son while she sang praises to the God who took her husband home. And again, I was reminded of this fragility each of our bodies carries. Our bodies, these weak, imperfect vessels, not promised a tomorrow. Our hearts, not immune to the deep ache of suffering, left feeling raw and bruised so many times along the journey.

I sat in the car on our drive home, and I felt this ache in my own heart, a pain that I knew wouldn’t dull quickly, thoughts of my friends filling my mind. But I looked out the window over the rail on the interstate at the mountains of Tennessee, these rolling hills, and I was reminded that the strong arms that reached down and made these were also gentle enough to hold them.

Throughout the last few days I had seen how Wendy was held. Friends who had accompanied her every step of this difficult journey, friends who made meals or sat around her kitchen table, friends who offered bedrooms to her family or coordinated the cleaning of her house, friends who extended their graceful arms and cradled her head.

I felt graceful arms days later in a gentle breeze against a hot, dry Georgia afternoon, lifting up our heads, tousling our hair as we listened to the preacher pray in front of the casket.  These gentle arms that understood the fragility of all our lives, offering a small blessing in the midst of our grief.

That night as I looked out on the green hills from the window of our van, I felt a profound tiredness. When we pulled into our driveway after midnight, we made our way into the house from the dark and thanked Matt’s parents for watching the kids. We spoke little as we made our way up the stairs and quickly dressed for bed. And that night as we lay under the covers, we held each other a little tighter than normal, resting in each others’ arms, knowing that we could never take these fragile lives for granted.

For those who had been following or are interested in Wendy’s journey, click here to read her final post. Her raw honesty is so beautiful and touching. Thank you for your prayers these last few days. I will update my sidebar (finally) in the next couple of days, and Wendy’s post will appear there, as well.

 

Sad News

I spent the last two days at my parents’ house since Matt was out of town, and I had planned to write a silly post about my brief consideration of moving in with them. However, that post no longer seems appropriate, and, truthfully, I am at a loss for words.

Last year, I shared my best friend Wendy’s story as her husband battled esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, his battle ended this morning.

To say that Wendy is an amazing woman is an understatement. In fact, I consider her a mystery of God. Not only can her mind calculate strange math problems and understand the concepts of AP Physics, enough so to teach a group of high school students, she can write the most beautiful prose one’s eyes have ever seen. But more amazing than her display of giftedness is her inspiring faith. I encourage you today to read the journal Wendy and Emmett together chronicled so beautifully of their fight with cancer.

I know many of you who read this blog pray and believe in a God who answers prayers. I ask you today to pray with all your heart for Wendy and her son Quinn. And for those of you who may read my blog and are unresolved in your faith, I challenge you to read Wendy and Emmett’s testimony. I truly believe their faith will inspire you. And I believe, whether or not you know what you believe, God hears the prayers of all His children. Wendy and Quinn could use them today.

Would you please pray with me?

Dear God, may Wendy and Quinn feel your arms of love surround them as they grieve. Give Wendy the strength she will need in the days, months, years ahead, and guide Quinn as he grows. May they never forget the love and happiness they shared with Emmett, and may they all be united together one day in your presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Feel free to add your own prayers for Wendy and Quinn in the comments if you are willing to pray publicly. Publicly or privately, I appreciate all your prayers for my friend.

The Dark Corridor

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted, One need not be a house. The brain has corridors surpassing material place.” -Emily Dickinson

photo courtesy of photobucket.com

I don’t know what made me think of him. I was getting ready in the bathroom, and the thought was suddenly there. We never had a relationship–it was 15 or 16 years since I had first met him–but the memory came in strong, and the guilt covered my mind like a dark fog.

We had spent numerous weekends driving around in this old real estate agent’s car. She probably wasn’t that old, but her shaky voice made her sound like she was at least 80. Up narrow, winding roads, looking for a home with the perfect view of the surrounding mountainous landscape. Down narrow, winding roads, never finding that home that made my parents’ hearts beat faster.

Until one weekend.

After seeing every mountain home in the area, Dad was frustrated. “We might need to go up to the next price range to get what you want.” The old real estate agent shook out the words. So my parents agreed. After all, they (or at least Dad) hoped to one day retire in this home.

So back up a narrow winding road we drove, and before we had even parked the car, I knew my parents would love this home. The view was breathtaking, and this simple, gray home was perfect. The main floor had one big room containing the kitchen, eating area, and den. Huge glass sliding doors leading to a porch all around the front allowed one to take in the mountains while cooking over the kitchen stove or relaxing on the couch in front of the T.V. And with the exception of the green-blue carpet covering most of this area, I could picture my family enjoying every inch of this space.

And so it was decided. My parents would buy this home. We went back to look at it one more time, and this time the owner, Mr. K__, was there. I don’t remember why he was moving–divorce? death?–but I remember his situation carrying a sorrowful story. He didn’t want to move but had to.

As I was standing on the porch, looking at the mountains, waiting for my parents, he came up to me.

“You’re stealing my dream!” He let the words escape as a desperate cry. Pain covered his face.

I was put off.

I wasn’t stealing anything. I merely accompanied my parents on their quest.

And I felt terribly uncomfortable and sad. How does one respond to such a statement? Why did he make it to me and not my sister, or better yet, my parents who were actually buying the house?

We drove home that day, and I took Mr. K__’s words with me down the gravel, winding road of the mountain. I never saw him again.

But my parents did.

Mr. K__ was dying of cancer, and my parents showing true goodness and God’s love as they always do, decided to visit him in his final days. They expressed their desire for me to come along.

“I just don’t want to go!” I exclaimed in the whiny way that only a teenager can. “I’m tired of being surrounded by death!” My drama classes had served me well. My parents didn’t protest but furrowed their brows and kind of shook their heads at a statement that they didn’t quite understand.

In the previous few years, I had experienced the deaths of both my grandparents and my aunt, but my reaction was rather extreme.

And I knew it.

The guilt hit immediately as my parents and sister backed down the driveway. I didn’t want to go, felt no obligation to this man with whom I had no relationship, this man who had accused me of stealing his dream, yet I knew I was wrong.

My parents were good people, showing kindness and mercy to a lonely man in his dying days. And I was selfish.

Mr. K__ died shortly thereafter.

But 16 years later, for no apparent reason, Mr. K__’s memory flooded my mind, full of life and reminders of a poor choice I had once made.

I don’t know what makes the memories I have ‘stick.’ I’ve lost so many along the way, good memories, beautiful memories of which my parents or sister or husband will remind me. But then sometimes, out of a dark corridor in the back of my mind, a memory which seems so small and insignificant will float its way to the front, illuminated in my mind’s eye, where I can fully see and remember.

Mr. K__ is there, stealing a place where I’d like to lay other dreams, desires, memories. This man whom I only knew for one day has taken a permanent residence, reminding me of who I was, hopefully much different than the woman I am now.

I don’t know what made me think of him, this man whom I had never really known, this man who made me feel bad for a decision that wasn’t mine, this man who died while I didn’t care and cared at the same time. I don’t know what made me think of him, but I know he resides in a dark corridor of my mind, beneath a dark fog.

Today’s post is inspired by the above writing prompt from Mama Kat. You can check out all of her prompts and others’ wonderful posts at her workshop.

Mama’s Losin’ It

What haunts you? Have you recently recalled a random event and have no idea why?

Ambivalence

I awoke a little after midnight on the couch where I had fallen asleep to sounds of cheering in Times Square, and the scene was eerily reminiscent of many of my New Year’s. I watched on the T.V. as Americans rejoiced in our capital and in the city which housed such tragedy near ten years ago, and I felt nothing. Or maybe I felt everything. I went to bed that night not knowing how to feel after learning that we killed Osama Bin Laden, and I spent most of the day yesterday trying to process my thoughts.

I read my share of Facebook status updates rejoicing in the death of one of the most miserable human beings my generation has known and those quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. reminding us to turn from hatred. I read blogs reminding me that this man got what he deserved, and I read articles from pastors urging Christians to respond with love. And I didn’t know what to feel.

Two nights ago, I was proud of our military. What an elite group of men who entered an extremely dangerous situation, lost a helicopter, but didn’t lose one American life! What a group of men who took out the target and then got out–I have such respect for all our military and their bravery.

I was proud of our Commander-In-Chief for allowing the military to do its job, for giving the order to finally get this man who brought such tragedy to our country, who destroyed thousands of lives and disrupted our way of life forever.

But I found myself not able to cheer.

I’d like to say that I felt sadness for a soul who, based on my beliefs, is spending an eternity burning in hell for his deeds. But I don’t. Bin Laden got what he deserved. I can honestly say that while he was alive, I did pray for him–I’m not sure I even believed my own prayers–but I did pray that the miraculous would occur, that he would repent and turn to the God who has grace and love for anyone who would accept it. But now that he has died, this coward who recruited others to kill themselves in order to advance his mission of hate, this man who grabbed and used one of his own wives as a shield in a desperate attempt to save himself; I feel disgust for him. And I feel nothing.

Yet, I am very sad. I know this man mattered to God and was created in His image. What a tragedy of a life wasted, a life that refused to see the value in others, a life who allowed his soul to turn as black as the hell in which he is now residing.

My mind waffles back and forth as I wrestle with my own political beliefs and spiritual instructions. I don’t believe a nation can turn the other cheek when attacked, yet I know a Christian can’t embrace the love of Jesus and rejoice over the death of anyone who lived a life apart from God.

I want to celebrate that the good guys won, but I think of the thousands of lives lost on September 11th and the thousands more in pursuit of justice. I think of the military families who have endured years of separation and those who broke apart under the weight of the burden. I think of a nation divided over Guantanamo Bay and whether or not we should be involved in a War on Terror. And I think of the time I placed my shoes in a bin at airport security and had to check if bottled breast milk could come on board.

I want to cheer for the good guys. I want to celebrate a victory.

But I fear there are no winners–

only a soul who was lost and a way of life that we will never get back.

The Day After September 11th

As I looked at my facebook page throughout the day, I noticed many status updates focusing on what people remembered from this date eight years ago.I, too, am able to recount where I was eight years ago on that dreadful morning–at a new teacher’s conference to be exact–but my thoughts quickly moved on to another topic.  September 12th and all the days after.

How is my life different as a result of 9/11?  Not just longer airport lines and things that are out of my control, but how am I living any differently?

When 9/11 happened, I was only 22, newly engaged and working as a new teacher.  I didn’t have too many problems, so-to-speak.  This September 11, I’m looking back over a really lousy week as a mother of three and wife and evaluating many aspects of my life.  The meaning of 9/11 is hitting me harder now, possibly, than it did eight years ago.

Eight years ago, a husband didn’t come home.  A mother didn’t get to tuck her kids into bed.  A girlfriend didn’t get to experience her wedding night.  A father-to-be didn’t see the birth of his son.

As I thought about September 11th, I didn’t think about the on-going political implications of the tragedy or anything other than how I was living my life.  By the grace of God, I am here to write this blog today and share it with anyone that God also chose to grant another day, and, yet, today could be my last.

Even as I had these thoughts, I continued to figure out how I would win the argument that I would inevitably have at the end of the night.  Honestly, I still don’t feel any better, but I want to.  I want to fully embrace the idea that today could be my last day.

On September 11, 2001, I don’t know if the mother possibly had to hold back tears as she dropped off her smart-aleck teenager at school.  I don’t know if the soon-to-be-Daddy sighed thinking about his crabby wife with swollen feet and all the complaints she’d have for him when he’d walk through the door that evening. But I do know they would each squeeze their loved one a lot harder and a lot longer if they knew it would be their last embrace.

It’s easy for me to remember 9/11.  Unfortunately, it’s also easy for me to forget.